Borussia Dortmund have lost further ground in the table after suffering a 2-1 defeat on the road to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
We’ve seen this story before: the 2016 Hinrunde Borussia Dortmund squad plays a match in which Julian Weigl is negated by the opponent, can’t break down the opposition and allows goals in which the back line looks asleep.
Goals by Szabolcs Huszti and Haris Seferovic lifted the Eagles to a 2-1 victory over the Ruhr side who dominated possession but were unable to find many gaps in the Eintracht defence. Although BVB limited Frankfurt in the first half, they allowed two goals in situations that tend to showed the team wasn’t focused.
The match began normally enough: Dortmund lined up with Sokratis Papastathopoulos and the recently steady Matthias Ginter at centre-back with veterans Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek flanking them. Regulars Julian Weigl, Mario Götze and Götze Castro patrolled the midfield with a front three of André Schürrle, Pierre-Emerick Aubemyang and maybe the lone surprise, Adrian Ramos. The Borussen arguably had the better of the chances in the first half, including a majority of the possession and an Aubameyang shot wide of the post after a nifty flick to get past his marker.
The second half opened with a goal just 18 second after kick-off. Marcel Schmelzer failed to intercept a pass to Timothy Chandler, as the captain left the inside lane open. An unmarked Szabolcs Huszti fired a shot past Roman Weidenfeller. After Marco Reus, Sebastian Rode and Ousmane Dembélé came on as substitutes, Aubameyang
After Marco Reus, Sebastian Rode and Ousmane Dembélé came on as substitutes, Aubameyang connected with a Dembélé cross from the right wing in the 78th minute to level the score, but Frankfurt striker Haris Seferović immediately answered Dortmund’s goal, beating a lethargic Weidenfeller from just outside the penalty area to reclaim the lead.
Should you judge the match solely on possession percentage, it might be assumed that Die Schwarzgelben were more confident on the ball and largely controlled the match. To the contrary, Eintracht frustrated and annoyed BVB in the attacking third which led to poorly weighted passes, rushed decision-making and a cumulative lack of flow in their attack. The Dortmund midfield spent much of its time shifting to receive passes from the back line, then playing lateral or passes back to create space which usually didn’t materialise. Ramos added little to the attack despite the occasional threat of a large, physical target. He failed to place a shot on target and completed a mere 9 of his 16 pass attempts.
A worrying trend for Borussia Dortmund is the successful tactic of Bundesliga opponents using pressure and physical play to neutralise Weigl in midfield. Without the threat of İlkay Gündoğan, Weigl has been less effective in boosting his club’s build-up play.
This is problematic on two fronts. First, Dortmund’s possession game hinges on Weigl’s steady passing play and good decision making. His link to the attacking options makes the system work. Second, as was evident today in Frankfurt, he doesn’t bring much protection for the back line. He has a small frame and doesn’t try to win the ball back with regularity. Therefore, when he isn’t adding as much to build-up and possession, his defensive limitations exacerbate his ineffectiveness. Perhaps this is why Tuchel brought on Rode. If Weigl wasn’t offering much on either front, Rode could at least bring some intensity to help protect the defence.
Eintracht Frankfurt won this match by playing within their identity: they played in a well-organised fashion, limited their opponent’s attack where possible and broke fiercely on the counter. Without Omar Mascarell, one of the keys to the Frankfurt build-up, the Eagles still made the best of the opportunities they created. Niko Kovac looks more and more competent by the week and his club’s results will continue to raise eyebrows around the Bundesliga and Europe.
Borussia Dortmund continue to be a bit of an enigma. They fly high against the likes of Bayern and Real Madrid yet appear disinterested or lackadaisical against sides like Ingolstadt, Leipzig and Frankfurt. This is understandable for a team composed of such young players but at times feels a little lacking after the spirited play in the Klopp era.
Especially on the road the Black and Yellows suffered by their lack of aggression, as they conceded 11 of 14 goals away from the Westfalenstadion. After Matchday 12, the Ruhr side stand with 21 points, 9 off the pace of Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig.